Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Received from Author for Review
“London, 1660: Ready to throw off a generation of Puritan rule, all England rejoices when Charles Stuart returns to reclaim the throne.
Among those welcoming him is young Barbara Villiers Palmer, a breathtaking Royalist beauty whose sensuality and clever wit instantly captivate the handsome, jaded king. Though each is promised to another, Barbara soon becomes Charles's mistress and closest friend, and the uncrowned queen of his bawdy Restoration court.
Rewarded with titles, land, and jewels, she is the most envied and desired woman in England--and the most powerful. But the role of royal mistress is a precarious one, and Barbara's enemies and rivals are everywhere in the palace.”
This book was not my first outing with Charles II. I have previously read a Jean Plaidy book called The Merry Monarch’s Wife about Catherine of Braganza (you can check out my review here) – with all those mistresses, who can imagine he had time for a wife! Obviously as that book was from the perspective of the wife, Barbara was not portrayed in the most flattering of lights. I have to say, that I very much enjoyed Barbara in Royal Harlot. Yes she was “bad” and most mothers would wish for their daughters to not turn out the way Barbara did – but she was a woman who knew how to get what she wanted, hold onto that power, and yet also know how to bow out on her own terms.
To quote the author in an email conversation we had, “Bad Barb was a LOT of fun to write about. She was every bit the libertine as any man of her time, and completely unrepentant. While I can understand why most writers (both historians and novelists) choose to paint her in an unflattering way, I enjoyed getting to "know" her. I imagine she would have been pretty entertaining company, and it's easy to see why Charles was so beguiled.” I could not agree more! Even though Barbara had loose morals, I enjoyed getting wrapped up in her escapades. Scott definitely knows how to tell a story.
Barbara was the mistress of Charles II for quite awhile – she was there before his wife, during Nell Gwyn and Renee de Kerouelle, and even with those other women she still managed to hold his attention. They had several children, 3 of which were definitely the king’s children – but she had many affairs and flings along the way too.
One of the things that I like about this novel is there is a thread that connects this book with Scott’s 3 other historical fiction novels. Renee and Nell were obvious (his other mistresses), but I had to take a second look to realize that a passing character in the novel would become Sarah Churchill, the lead character of her book Duchess. This was just an interesting side note. Also, as easy as it was to get wrapped up in Barbara’s life, it was refreshing to see that she was conscious of the way she was viewed by the people – she didn’t live in a bubble.
This was a wonderful, quick read. I raced through the pages caught up in the escapades of the court. There are many sexual references, but not overly graphic – it was well done and appropriate for the type of person that Barbara was. I felt that it was very important to understanding the character and her motives. I hope to proceed with another one of her books soon as I really enjoyed this one.
You can read an excerpt from the book here.
Reviews of this book by other bloggers:
Also by Susan Holloway Scott:
The Countess and the King